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Heat Pump vs Air Conditioner

Living in a state with a moderate or variable climate means having multiple options for how you want to tackle the seasonal changes in weather. Most commonly, you’ll find yourself debating over heat pumps and air conditioners. 

Air conditioners are devices that absorb warm indoor air and supply cooler air instead. Heat pumps also perform the same operation, but in addition to cooling the indoor air, heat pumps can also supply hot air. On warmer days, you can use it as an air conditioner, and on cooler days, you can use them to heat the room.

If you’re planning to invest in an air conditioner or a heat pump, it is vital to consider factors such as the type of unit, unit size, energy efficiency, and cost. Continue reading this guide to learn how air conditioners and heat pumps work, the types available, and the benefits of each. Compare the costs associated with HVAC systems and find out which is best suited for your cooling or heating requirements.

SEER rating
A SEER rating is a measure of your HVAC unit’s maximum possible efficiency. Image: Shutterstock/ Konstantin L.

Heat pumps

Heat pump costs and sizes may vary, but they all have the same working principle. Let’s find out more about an HVAC heat pump system.

What is a heat pump?

A heat pump is a device that transfers heat between the air inside a building space and the air outside. In a warmer climate, the unit extracts heat from the indoor air and transfers it to the outdoor air. During cooler days, this process reverses, and the unit absorbs heat from the outside air and delivers it indoors. The unit is efficient enough to extract heat from the outside air even during freezing temperatures. However, when there is no heat left to extract, an electric heater will heat the outside air to warm the indoors.

Types of heat pumps

Heat pumps are classified into two major types, air source heat pumps and geothermal heat pumps. An air-source heat pump utilizes heat from the outside air, while a geothermal heat pump extracts heat from the ground.

Depending on the design, heat pumps are generally available in two types, split type and packaged units. A split type heat pump consists of two separate outdoor and indoor units, while a packaged unit comes with all the components of the system housed in a single cabinet.

Sometimes, a packaged unit also includes electric heating coils or a gas furnace, which supplements the heat pump to deliver warm air indoors during frigid weather conditions.

Heat pump benefits

  • For moderate climates, heat pumps are generally more cost-effective and energy-efficient than other means of heating, such as oil or gas furnaces.
  • Apart from lowering energy consumption, these units are also safer and relatively environmentally-friendly.
  • Heat pumps can provide both cooling and heating, eliminating the need to have a separate system to fulfill heating requirements.
  • Modern heat pumps are also reliable and have a long lifespan of around 10-15 years.
  • Depending on the area you live in, buying an energy-efficient heat pump can also make you eligible for tax rebates.
  • Heat pumps require less maintenance compared to traditional heating and cooling systems like wood stoves or fireplaces.

Heat pump costs

The cost of a heat pump with installation depends on many factors, including the unit type, size of the unit, energy efficiency ratings, location where you need the heat pump installed, and the necessary amount of ductwork.The average price of a house heat pump with installation can vary from as low as $4,100 to as much as $20,000 for a geothermal unit installed.

The best way to get accurate details on pricing and guidance on selecting the right size heat pump for your home or office is to consult a local HVAC professional in your area.

air conditioner - ducts
Your return grills, or the covers on your vents, could be to blame for your A/C issues. Image: Mile Atanasov/Shutterstock

Air Conditioners

Similar to a heat pump, an air conditioner is also available in different sizes and types, with different energy efficiencies. Let’s find how this HVAC system works in more detail.

What is an air conditioner?

Similar to a heat pump, an air conditioner performs the same job of transferring heat from one place to another, however, an air conditioner is only capable of cooling. This means that it extracts heat from the indoor air and transfers the heat outside.

The components used in this device are also similar to a heat pump which consists of an outdoor unit housing a condenser, compressor, and fan. The indoor unit includes an evaporator and a fan. A refrigerant circulates through the condenser and evaporator, absorbing heat from indoor air. The resulting cold air moves through the ducts using the fan and cools the indoors.

Types of air conditioners

Air conditioners are available in different types, including central air conditioners, split-type air conditioners, window air conditioners, and portable units. Despite their various configurations, the working principle remains the same.

A central air conditioner packs evaporator, condenser, and compressor in a single unit and is often placed on a roof. The unit is connected with the supply and return ducts installed along the walls of a home or office.

Split-type air conditioners have two separate outdoor and indoor units, and the air supply is through the ducts. There are also mini-split air conditioners that have a smaller footprint and do not require ductwork for air supply. The cold air blows through a slim indoor unit mounted on the wall.

A wall unit also combines all the components in a single box that can fit on a window. This type of air conditioner is ideal for cooling a single room. A portable air conditioner is similar to a window unit but can be easily moved from room to room.

Air conditioner benefits

  • Air conditioners offer optimum climate indoors, providing a comfortable environment even during the warmest days.
  • AC can encourage better sleep as the room temperature remains steady and at comfortable levels.
  • An air conditioner can help to improve indoor air quality by reducing allergens and pollutants.
  • Properly air-conditioned rooms can reduce dehydration

Air conditioner costs

The cost of an air conditioner can vary from $150 to $10,000 depending on the type, energy efficiency ratings, and the unit size you choose. You’ll also need to include installation cost, which can range from $1,000 to $6,000 and is dependent on factors such as unit size, the location where you need the AC installed, and the amount of ductwork that goes into setting up the system. Buying a more energy-efficient model can also save money in energy costs over time.

For accurate air conditioner pricing, consult an HVAC professional in your area.

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